I just know I’m gonna piss off some valuable readers with this one.
Many sunrises ago, a boss who I liked very much told me one of his life lessons. Fond of those life lessons, he was. But this one was a doozy.
“Outfoxed, I’ve got a company here with 35 men working for me. They bitch and moan, they smell bad sometimes, they show up late and hungover, but they work. Make money for the company. I pay ‘em on Friday, they go home and we get along pretty damn well. I think that’s not such a bad arrangement.”
He paused in his telling, as if sifting the punch line in his head. I was listening.
“But then I’ve got one woman working for me (she happened to be the bookkeeper/secretary). Just the one, mind you. And now she’s askin’ me for help, needs a receptionist or someone to answer the phones, file the files. Another gal. Probably gonna have to put an ad in the paper.”
And I’m nodding as he tells the tale, it was a busy company, the phones sometimes went unanswered, in those days before the tele-death of voicemail and the disembodiment of answering machines.
He sighed. “But I’ll tell ye something. I’d rather work a hundred men than two women.”
I was young, or at least younger at the time. If I was hearing that story today I‘d merely shrug along in agreement. The younger Me asked, “Why is that, oh Boss of mine?”
“Are you kidding?,” he asked. “Two cats in a sack, boy. Two cats, one sack.” And he said no more about it.
But because of the way things were, I was able to find out first hand just what the deal was. Me and the Boss and his son worked in the office along with the bookkeeping girl, and the other 30 or so employees worked out in the shop. Bookkeeper was not an unattractive lass, married, but she had a sharpish sort of tongue and a personality to go along with it, one of those women who seemed to be on the PMS bandwagon at least twice as often as your average girl. But she worked, she tried. Had the Old Man wrapped around her finger, or so it seemed.
Enter new Receptionist. My, oh happy my. Leggy. Sharp dresser. Roving eye and single as they come. I nearly took the Boss to lunch in celebration of not picking one of the more dowdy women who applied for the job. And the boys from the shop seemed to, suddenly, have pressing business in my office at all hours of the day. “Hey Out foxed, checked out the new Receptionist today? Ohmigod she’s fine.”
Yes, Outfoxed had. I was married, had the three kids but was decidedly still with pulse and olfactory senses.
Now the two women got along just swell for a while there. I noticed that the Bookkeeper began dressing a little more stylishly, using a touch more makeup than usual. They’d take lunch together, we heard laughter and busy activity out there in the front office. For a couple of months all was right in our little world of busy bees.
I don’t remember exactly when things began to change, or why, but the wheels fell off that wagon in a big hurry. Like, instantly, I’m saying. I rolled into the front office one morning with a handful of files and Receptionist girl wasn’t around, so I tagged Bookkeeper. “Hey, where do you want me to put the files on the Hospital Job?”
The Bookkeeper looked up and I swear, I saw green slits for eyes and a big tail and fur standing straight up on her back as she spit, “Stick ‘em on that Bitches desk, I don’t care. She‘ll get to ‘em once she‘s done primping in the bathroom.”
Thus began a lively month.
We didn’t hear much talking from the front office after that. If you were to walk through it, which was unavoidable, there’d be much tapping of typewriter keys and shuffling of paper and they’d both look up and give a smiling “Hi, Outfoxed!” but that was about it. If one of them dropped into my office, which was also unavoidable, the fur would be up and the tail would be big and one or the other would whisper something like, “What’s that Bitch been saying about me, huh? What?” All in a conspiratorial tone, as if I was the epicenter of all things politic in an office of 5.
At the same time, the clothes got sharper and the makeup got more imaginative. The hair was styled and the perfume exotic. Hell I saw more leg from the both of them in one day than I’d seen for years in that office. I noticed. So did the Boss and his son. Pretty hard not to. Flying pretty high we were.
It was, of course, due for a crash landing at any given moment, and sure enough the Bookkeeper went storming into the Boss’s office one day and had a behind doors session for all of thirty seconds, at which point he emerged and summoned the Receptionist. The three of them dug in for a half hour jamfest and through two sets of doors I could hear the yowling and screeching. Ugly thing it was. The Receptionist emerged, red faced and teary, gathered her things and left without a word, never to be seen again. The Bookkeeper was a little red faced herself, but left merely for the day, and clumped in the next morning to do her thing, solo. In jeans and a sweater.
The Boss just looked tired, and went off to play a round of golf.
But so far as sacks went, one of the cats had just fallen out.
I was reminded of this whole cats in sack thing again, for the millionth time, yesterday. I got a little hustle job at the office of Dr. Mangler, dentist to the cultured elite, a preppy sort of youth who’d parlayed his nimble fingers and air powered tools into something of a dental factory in the area, a big operation in a million dollar building with art deco on the walls and heavy duty furnishings.
And twenty women. One Boss dentist, one other male dentist, a full waiting room. And twenty women on staff. Dr. Mangler had it going on. Hygienists, Mold Makers, X-Ray tech, Bookkeepers, even a female dentist or two. All housed under one roof and what a roof it was.
But his doors needed help, so Outfoxed was summoned. Simple enough sort of work, too. Haul down one faux mahogany door at a time, take it outdoors, cut about two-thirds of it away to make a big rectangular hole in the middle, install obscure glass panel, wood trim on both sides of the hole, back inside and re-hang. Had four of ‘em to do, and I was bored after the first one, running on auto-pilot.
Part and parcel of the job was humping the doors (that’s carrying the doors, for you slavishly perverse out there) through the rear of the building, which happened to be the Break Room so necessary to the morale of twenty women under one roof. At no time was the room empty, there seemed to be endless klatches of girls paired up, at high tables, having discussions either whispered or boisterous at all hours of the day.
Now this was none of my never mind. Truth be told, I’ve learned to keep a little bit of distance from the Professional Women when on a job. A little aloofness, even. ‘Cause I don’t want to get suckered into one of those “What’s that Bitch saying about me?” sort of scenarios ever again.
My old Boss was right. Two cats in a sack? Trouble, with capital and stuttered T. Twenty in a sack? Oh my good lord.
“Outfoxed, I’d rather work a thousand men than twenty women,” he’d no doubt say. I’m sure a fair percentage of them got along just fine, but the political seething going on under the surface, in the air of the Break Room, was unmistakable.
I had the last door hung, and they wanted it re-keyed with a new lock. Simple enough, pop the rosette, ping the lever off with the small allen wrench, yank the two machine screws with the drill and the barrel nut with the secret wrench I keep in the front of the tool bag. Reverse the process for the new lock. Four minutes. Key in lock, check the function and the back check. Presto change-o, and of course I had an audience of a half dozen secretaries by this time.
“Now then,” I said as I rose on creaking knees from my position on the floor. “Who is the lucky lass in charge of this room and this particular key, hmmm?”
All six of the secretaries looked around at each other. “That would be Lynn,” one of them volunteered, “But she’s at lunch right now. Let me get Mrs. Smith for you.”
Good enough, I started packing up the drill and the empty lock box and gave my suspendered tool bag another hitch. Beer-thirty was beckoning.
“Mr. Outfoxed, I’m Mrs. Smith” and I turned to behold a woman of at least sixty, somebody’s grandma, sweet little old lady sort of gal, smiling up at me. “Is the door lockable?”
“Oh yes” said I, and proceeded to show her the wonders of the modern lockset, twisting the key just so, opening and shutting, key in and out. High tech stuff, my world is.
“Well that’s fine, I’ll let Lynn know it’s done.”
I pulled the key out and handed it to her, but she held up a dainty paw. “Oh no, just leave it in the lock if you would please. So it won‘t get misplaced.” She leaned in, with a look around the empty hallway, and whispered furtively “Besides. I wouldn’t want that Bitch thinking I had one of her farking keys.” And she grinned that little grin, with green slits for eyes, poked me in the ribs once and slunk down the hall.
I’d say her fur was standing up and her tail was all big but hell, she was sixty years old.
She was wearing a short skirt, as befitting the Professional Woman. And I wouldn’t swear to it, I mean who am I to say, but it seemed like her makeup was just a touch heavy.
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